By Sherri Thrift '96
When I entered graduate school at Virginia Tech in 1994, I had a grand vision of improving the world through the use of walkable urban spaces and diverse, entrepreneurial economies. After graduate school, my work in higher education and state government was exciting, but I always felt compelled to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of others. Five years ago, my husband Paul (‘96 Forestry, ‘05 Horticulture) and I agreed to host two Ukrainian orphan girls for a week while they performed a Russian Christmas program in Eastern Virginia. Despite its challenges, the time I spent with these girls was the spark that lit my passion.
We tried twice to adopt these girls, but the older one decided she did not want to be adopted. Though disappointing, I know God wants me to help orphans who will not be adopted. These children will age out of the orphanage at age 15 into a life of fear, crime, and little hope, not knowing what it is like to have a family. My work as director of marketing for Heart for Orphans has enabled me to make a difference in teens' lives by providing homes where these teens can learn life skills and find unconditional love. We are working with a Ukrainian partner to provide Bible classes in 32 orphanages and life skills programs in ten trade schools for teens after they age out of an orphanage. We also offer adoption support for those interested in adopting.
Although I am not technically working within the degree I received at Virginia Tech, I am implementing the Ut Prosim attitude and spirit I learned from the university and my department. Join us on a trip to see how hope has restored the lives of these forgotten teens, hug the precious babies at an orphanage, and help lead vacation Bible school programs at an orphan summer camp. While we can make a difference in the lives of others, you may also realize that the biggest difference happens in yourself!
Heart for Orphans is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supported by generous donations of time, talent, and treasure. Visit www.heartfororphans.com to learn more.
By Lauren McClellan '00
Orange Bowl pre-game anticipation presented a prime opportunity for a local display of Ut Prosim. On Jaunary 2, 2011, representatives of the Alumni Association and the South Florida Chapter banded together to hit the beach in cooperation with Broward County and the City of Hollywood.
Armed with rubber gloves, trash bags, and other supplies provided by the Keep Broward Beautiful program (including those most necessary sweat towels for south Florida’s “treacherous” January conditions), Hokies worked to clean up a public beach access park near the team hotel in Hollywood. The group collected approximately 16 bags containing 45 pounds of trash, including 2,200 cigarette butts, over the course of 90 minutes. In true Ut Prosim spirit, not a single complaint was heard as the group trudged through the hot sand and across the busy upland area of the park.
As I reflect upon this latest Orange Bowl weekend, I am filled with a renewed sense of appreciation for the sheer size, loyalty, and character of the Hokie Nation. We proved yet again that Hokies are great residents, visitors, and stewards of our environment. It was an honor to continue the university’s tradition of community service and betterment as part of this latest Virginia Tech football bowl game appearance. Although we weren’t the victor of the football game, the Hokies certainly exited as winners in the eyes and hearts of those on Hollywood Beach.
By Chris Cooke '12
Bridges to Prosperity at Virginia Tech (B2PVT) recently celebrated the successful completion of its first project – a 60-meter suspended footbridge in Ti Peligre, Haiti.
Students from Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering (primarily the Department of Civil Engineering) began work on the project in November 2009. Using a design manual adapted by the Bridges to Prosperity parent organization, students employed their curriculum to develop a reliable design and construction process, including improvement to the manual’s structural design. The earthquake in January 2010 presented sizeable setbacks in materials procurement and logistical planning, but the project benefitted from a partnership between Virginia Tech and University Quisqueya. James Paul, a Haitian civil engineering student from Quisqueya, was one of several students to spend the Fall 2010 semester in Blacksburg completing studies, as his university was destroyed during the earthquake. Paul used the Ti Peligre project to complete his work and ultimately supervised construction.
Throughout the project, self-funded students traveled to the site four times. During the course of the project, students conducted a site survey and feasibility study, explained the design and construction process to local workers, laid out excavation, and supervised and helped place anchors and set cables. The fourth and final trip occurred over spring break and concluded the project with a final construction inspection, dedication ceremony, and creation of a local bridge committee.
Joining the student team members at the dedication ceremony were John Dooley, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs; Bryan Cloyd, John E. Peterson Jr. Professor of Accounting; Jack Davis, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; Hans Rott, professor of Architecture; and Christine Fiori, associate professor and director of Professional & Academic Outreach. Three representatives from Partners in Health, including Haiti Program Coordinator Ali Lutz, were also present. Approximately 400 community members attended the ceremony.
The experience in Haiti led the team to start the B2PVT student chapter of Bridges to Prosperity. The chapter now has approximately 20 members and is working to identify their next project this spring and begin fundraising immediately. The total cost of the Ti Peligre bridge was approximately $20,000, all of which was raised by the student group and Dr. Bryan Cloyd.
If you are interested in learning more about B2PVT, please contact Chris Cooke at
By Melanie Kiernan '11
Melanie Kiernan is the chair of the executive board for the Coalition of Campus YMCAs (CCY). CCY is a national movement of campus YMCA’s student-led service programs. She is also a member of YSA’s Youth Council.
When I started attending Virginia Tech in Fall 2007, I was confused about what to do with my newfound college life. A listserv email inspired me, and the YMCA at Virginia Tech gave me every reason to become involved.
I took an Alternative Winter Break trip to the Dominican Republic in January 2009, and it changed me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I went in not knowing what to expect, or even the language that was spoken in the small villages of Nagua, by my passion for service was ignited. There I was, mixing concrete in the Dominican sun and dancing with the local community as the Bachata blared from just down the dirt road. In those moments, I found myself. To the communities, I was a college student finding a way to fill winter break with something other than television reruns. But to me, this was my chance to share the blessings in my life with new people. Sometimes, all we shared was a smile, but that was enough.
After this trip, I became focused on finding a way to give back to those communities and to spread my passion for service to others. I became a lifelong volunteer, and committed myself to becoming a globally active citizen. I recently returned back from my second life-changing trip to the Dominican Republic, but this time as a trip leader. I witnessed 12 of my peers experience the love, passion, and cultural immersion that I have grown to love about the Dominican Republic. I would urge anyone to participate in a trip like this; it will change your life and your perspectives.
Some people do not believe that one person can make a difference; but I hope that one day, I can be the reason that changes their minds.
Ut Prosim Update is a joint publication between the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships that highlights alumni, student, and community service projects while encouraging partnerships across various constitutions. To submit a story, please contact Josh Burnheimer, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations